Nunc huc, nunc illuc et utrinque sine ordine curro.
Courteous reader, when I bade thee last farewell I thought these wanderings were brought to a final close; afterwards I often roved in imagination through distant countries famous for natural history, but felt no strong inclination to go thither, as the last adventure had terminated in such unexpected vexation. The departure of the cuckoo and swallow and summer birds of passage for warmer regions, once so interesting to me, now scarcely caused me to turn my face to the south; and I continued in this cold and dreary climate for three years. During this period I seldom or never mounted my hobby-horse; indeed, it may be said, with the old song,
The saddle and bridle were laid on the shelf,
and only taken down once, on the night that I was induced to give a lecture in the Philosophical Hall of Leeds. A little after this Wilson’s Ornithology of the United States fell into my hands.
The desire I had of seeing that country, together with the animated description which Wilson had given of the birds, fanned up the almost-expiring flame. I forgot the vexations already alluded to, and set off for New York in the beautiful packet John Wells, commanded by Captain Harris. The passage was long and cold, but the elegant accommodations on board and the polite attention of the commander rendered it very agreeable; and I landed in health and merriment in the stately capital of the New World.
We will soon pen down a few remarks on this magnificent city, but not just now. I want to venture into the north-west country, and get to their great canal, which the world talks so much about, though I fear it will be hard work to make one’s way through bugs, bears, brutes and buffaloes, which we Europeans imagine are so frequent and ferocious in these never-ending western wilds.
I left New York on a fine morning in July, without one letter of introduction, for the city of Albany, some hundred and eighty miles up the celebrated Hudson. I seldom care about letters of introduction, for I am one of those who depend much upon an accidental acquaintance. Full many a face do I see as I go wandering up and down the world whose mild eye and sweet and placid features seem to beckon to me and say, as it were, “Speak but civilly to me, and I will do what I can for you.” Such a face as this is worth more than a dozen letters of introduction; and such a face, gentle reader, I found on board the steamboat from New York to the city of Albany.
There was a great number of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen in the vessel, all entire strangers to me. I fancied I could see several whose countenances invited an unknown wanderer to come and take a seat beside them; but there was one who encouraged me more than the rest. I saw clearly that he was an American, and I judged by his manners and appearance that he had not spent all his time upon his native soil. I was right in this conjecture, for he afterwards told me that he had been in France and England. I saluted him as one stranger gentleman ought to salute another when he wants a little information; and soon after I dropped in a word or two by which he might conjecture that I was a foreigner, but I did not tell him so; I wished him to make the discovery himself.
He entered into conversation with the openness and candour which is so remarkable in the American, and in a little time observed that he presumed I was from the old country. I told him that I was, and added that I was an entire stranger on board. I saw his eye brighten up at the prospect he had of doing a fellow-creature a kind turn or two, and he completely won my regard by an affability which I shall never forget. This obliging gentleman pointed out everything that was grand and interesting as the steamboat plied her course up the majestic Hudson. Here the Catskill Mountains raised their lofty summit; and there the hills came sloping down to the water’s edge. Here he pointed to an aged and venerable oak which, having escaped the levelling axe of man, seemed almost to defy the blasting storm and desolating hand of Time; and there he bade me observe an extended tract of wood by which I might form an idea how rich and grand the face of the country had once been. Here it was that, in the great and momentous struggle, the colonists lost the day; and there they carried all before them:
They closed full fast, on every side
No slackness there was found;
And many a gallant gentleman
Lay gasping on the ground.
Here, in fine, stood a noted regiment; there moved their great captain; here the fleets fired their broadsides; and there the whole force rushed on to battle:
Hic Dolopum manus, hic magnus tendebat Achilles,
Classibus hic locus, hic acies certare solebat.
At teatime we took our tea together, and the next morning this worthy American walked up with me to the inn in Albany, shook me by the hand, and then went his way. I bade him farewell and again farewell, and hoped that Fortune might bring us together again once more. Possibly she may yet do so; and should it be in England, I will take him to my house as an old friend and acquaintance, and offer him my choicest cheer. It is at Albany that the great canal opens into the Hudson and joins the waters of this river to those of Lake Erie. The Hudson, at the city of Albany, is distant from Lake Erie about 360 miles. The level of the lake is 564 feet higher than the Hudson, and there are eighty-one locks on the canal. It is to the genius and perseverance of De Witt Clinton that the United States owe the almost incalculable advantages of this inland navigation: “Exegit monumentum ære perennius.” You may either go along it all the way to Buffalo on Lake Erie or by the stage; or sometimes on one and then in the other, just as you think fit. Grand indeed is the scenery by either route and capital the accommodations. Cold and phlegmatic must he be who is not warmed into admiration by the surrounding scenery, and charmed with the affability of the travellers he meets on the way.
This is now the season of roving and joy and merriment for the gentry of this happy country. Thousands are on the move from different parts of the Union for the springs and lakes and the Falls of Niagara. There is nothing haughty or forbidding in the Americans; and wherever you meet them they appear to be quite at home. This is exactly what it ought to be, and very much in favour of the foreigner who journeys amongst them. The immense number of highly-polished females who go in the stages to visit the different places of amusement and see the stupendous natural curiosities of this extensive country incontestably proves that safety and convenience are ensured to them, and that the most distant attempt at rudeness would by common consent be immediately put down.
By the time I had got to Schenectady I began strongly to suspect that I had come into the wrong country to look for bugs, bears, brutes and buffaloes. It is an enchanting journey from Albany to Schenectady, and from thence to Lake Erie. The situation of the city of Utica is particularly attractive: the Mohawk running close by it, the fertile fields and woody mountains, and the Falls of Trenton forcibly press the stranger to stop a day or two here before he proceeds onward to the lake.
At some far distant period, when it will not be possible to find the place where many of the celebrated cities of the East once stood, the world will have to thank the United States of America for bringing their names into the western regions. It is, indeed, a pretty thought of these people to give to their rising towns the names of places so famous and conspicuous in former times.
As I was sitting one evening under an oak in the high grounds behind Utica, I could not look down upon the city without thinking of Cato and his misfortunes. Had the town been called Crofton, or Warmfield, or Dewsbury, there would have been nothing remarkable in it; but Utica at once revived the scenes at school long past and half-forgotten, and carried me with full speed back again to Italy, and from thence to Africa. I crossed the Rubicon with Cæsar; fought at Pharsalia; saw poor Pompey into Larissa, and tried to wrest the fatal sword from Cato’s hand in Utica. When I perceived he was no more, I mourned over the noble-minded man who took that part which he thought would most benefit his country. There is something magnificent in the idea of a man taking by choice the conquered side. The Roman gods themselves did otherwise.
Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.
In this did Cato with the gods divide,
They chose the conquering, he the conquer’d side.
The whole of the country from Utica to Buffalo is pleasing; and the intervening of the inland lakes, large and deep and clear, adds considerably to the effect. The spacious size of the inns, their excellent provisions, and the attention which the traveller receives in going from Albany to Buffalo, must at once convince him that this country is very much visited by strangers; and he will draw the conclusion that there must be something in it uncommonly interesting to cause so many travellers to pass to and fro.
Nature is losing fast her ancient garb and putting on a new dress in these extensive regions. Most of the stately timber has been carried away; thousands of trees are lying prostrate on the ground; while meadows, cornfields, villages and pastures are ever and anon bursting upon the traveller’s view as he journeys on through the remaining tracts of wood. I wish I could say a word or two for the fine timber which is yet standing. Spare it, gentle inhabitants, for your country’s sake. These noble sons of the forest beautify your landscapes beyond all description; when they are gone, a century will not replace their loss; they cannot, they must not fall; their vernal bloom, their summer richness, and autumnal tints, please and refresh the eye of man; and even when the days of joy and warmth are fled, the wintry blast soothes the listening ear with a sublime and pleasing melancholy as it howls through their naked branches.
Around me trees unnumber’d rise,
Beautiful in various dyes.
The gloomy pine, the poplar blue,
The yellow beech, the sable yew;
The slender fir, that taper grows,
The sturdy oak, with broad-spread boughs.
A few miles before you reach Buffalo the road is low and bad, and in stepping out of the stage I sprained my foot very severely; it swelled to a great size, and caused me many a day of pain and mortification, as will be seen in the sequel.
Buffalo looks down on Lake Erie, and possesses a fine and commodious inn. At a little distance is the Black Rock, and there you pass over to the Canada side. A stage is in waiting to convey you some sixteen or twenty miles down to the falls. Long before you reach the spot you hear the mighty roar of waters and see the spray of the far-famed Falls of Niagara rising up like a column to the heavens and mingling with the passing clouds.
At this stupendous cascade of Nature the waters of the lake fall 176 feet perpendicular. It has been calculated, I forget by whom, that the quantity of water discharged down this mighty fall is 670,255 tons per minute. There are two large inns on the Canada side; but after you have satisfied your curiosity in viewing the falls, and in seeing the rainbow in the foam far below where you are standing, do not, I pray you, tarry long at either of them. Cross over to the American side, and there you will find a spacious inn which has nearly all the attractions: there you meet with great attention and every accommodation.
The day is passed in looking at the falls and in sauntering up and down the wooded and rocky environs of the Niagara; and the evening is often enlivened by the merry dance.
Words can hardly do justice to the unaffected ease and elegance of the American ladies who visit the Falls of Niagara. The traveller need not rove in imagination through Circassia in search of fine forms, or through England, France and Spain to meet with polished females. The numbers who are continually arriving from all parts of the Union confirm the justness of this remark.
I was looking one evening at a dance, being unable to join in it on account of the accident I had received near Buffalo, when a young American entered the ballroom with such a becoming air and grace that it was impossible not to have been struck with her appearance.
Her bloom was like the springing flower
That sips the silver dew,
The rose was budded in her cheek,
Just opening to the view.
I could not help feeling a wish to know where she had
Into such beauty spread, and blown so fair.
Upon inquiry I found that she was from the city of Albany. The more I looked at the fair Albanese the more I was convinced that in the United States of America may be found grace and beauty and symmetry equal to anything in the Old World.
I now for good and all (and well I might) gave up the idea of finding bugs, bears, brutes and buffaloes in this country, and was thoroughly satisfied that I had laboured under a great mistake in suspecting that I should ever meet with them.
I wished to join in the dance where the fair Albanese was “to brisk notes in cadence beating,” but the state of my unlucky foot rendered it impossible; and as I sat with it reclined upon a sofa, full many a passing gentleman stopped to inquire the cause of my misfortune, presuming at the same time that I had got an attack of gout. Now this surmise of theirs always mortified me; for I never had a fit of gout in my life, and, moreover, never expect to have one.
In many of the inns in the United States there is an album on the table in which travellers insert their arrival and departure, and now and then indulge in a little flash or two of wit.
I thought under existing circumstances that there would be no harm in briefly telling my misadventure; and so taking up the pen I wrote what follows, and was never after asked a single question about the gout.
C. Waterton, of Walton Hall, in the county of York, England, arrived at the Falls of Niagara in July 1824, and begs leave to pen down the following dreadful accident:
He sprained his foot, and hurt his toe,
On the rough road near Buffalo.
It quite distresses him to stagger a-Long the sharp rocks of famed Niagara.
So thus he’s doomed to drink the measure
Of pain, in lieu of that of pleasure.
On Hope’s delusive pinions borne
He came for wool, and goes back shorn.
N.B.— Here he alludes to nothing but
Th’ adventure of his toe and foot;
Save this — he sees all that which can
Delight and charm the soul of man,
But feels it not — because his toe
And foot together plague him so.
I remember once to have sprained my ankle very violently many years ago, and that the doctor ordered me to hold it under the pump two or three times a day. Now in the United States of America all is upon a grand scale, except taxation; and I am convinced that the traveller’s ideas become much more enlarged as he journeys through the country. This being the case, I can easily account for the desire I felt to hold my sprained foot under the Fall of Niagara. I descended the winding-staircase which has been made for the accommodation of travellers, and then hobbled on to the scene of action. As I held my leg under the fall I tried to meditate on the immense difference there was betwixt a house-pump and this tremendous cascade of Nature, and what effect it might have upon the sprain; but the magnitude of the subject was too overwhelming, and I was obliged to drop it.
Perhaps, indeed, there was an unwarrantable tincture of vanity in an unknown wanderer wishing to have it in his power to tell the world that he had held his sprained foot under a fall of water which discharges 670,255 tons per minute. A gentle purling stream would have suited better. Now it would have become Washington to have quenched his battle-thirst in the Fall of Niagara; and there was something royal in the idea of Cleopatra drinking pearl-vinegar made from the grandest pearl in Egypt; and it became Caius Marius to send word that he was sitting upon the ruins of Carthage. Here we have the person suited to the thing, and the thing to the person.
If, gentle reader, thou wouldst allow me to indulge a little longer in this harmless pen-errantry, I would tell thee that I have had my ups and downs in life as well as other people: for I have climbed to the point of the conductor above the cross on the top of St. Peter’s in Rome and left my glove there; I have stood on one foot upon the Guardian Angel’s head on the Castle of St. Angelo; and, as I have just told thee, I have been low down under the Fall of Niagara. But this is neither here nor there; let us proceed to something else.
When the pain of my foot had become less violent, and the swelling somewhat abated, I could not resist the inclination I felt to go down Ontario, and so on to Montreal and Quebec, and take Lakes Champlain and George in my way back to Albany.
Just as I had made up my mind to it, a family from the Bowling–Green in New York, who was going the same route, politely invited me to join their party. Nothing could be more fortunate. They were highly accomplished. The young ladies sang delightfully; and all contributed their portion to render the tour pleasant and amusing.
Travellers have already filled the world with descriptions of the bold and sublime scenery from Lake Erie to Quebec:
The fountain’s fall, the river’s flow,
The woody valleys, warm and low;
The windy summit, wild and high,
Roughly rushing to the sky.
And there is scarce one of them who has not described the achievements of former and latter times on the different battle-grounds. Here great Wolfe expired. Brave Montcalm was carried, mortally wounded, through yonder gate. Here fell the gallant Brock; and there General Sheaffee captured all the invaders. And in yonder harbour may be seen the mouldering remnants of British vessels. Their hour of misfortune has long passed away. The victors have now no use for them in an inland lake. Some have already sunk, while others, dismantled and half-dismasted, are just above the water, waiting in shattered state that destiny which must sooner or later destroy the fairest works of man.
The excellence and despatch of the steamboats, together with the company which the traveller is sure to meet with at this time of the year, render the trip down to Montreal and Quebec very agreeable.
The Canadians are a quiet and apparently a happy people. They are very courteous and affable to strangers. On comparing them with the character which a certain female traveller, a journalist, has thought fit to give them, the stranger might have great doubts whether or not he were amongst the Canadians.
Montreal, Quebec and the Falls of Montmorency are well worth going to see. They are making tremendous fortifications at Quebec. It will be the Gibraltar of the New World. When one considers its distance from Europe, and takes a view of its powerful and enterprising neighbour, Virgil’s remark at once rushes into the mind:
Sic vos non vobis nidificatis aves.
I left Montreal with regret. I had the good fortune to be introduced to the Professors of the College. These fathers are a very learned and worthy set of gentlemen, and on my taking leave of them I felt a heaviness at heart in reflecting that I had not more time to cultivate their acquaintance.
In all the way from Buffalo to Quebec I only met with one bug; and I cannot even swear that it belonged to the United States. In going down the St. Lawrence in the steamboat I felt something crossing over my neck, and on laying hold of it with my finger and thumb it turned out to be a little half-grown, ill-conditioned bug. Now whether it were going from the American to the Canada side, or from the Canada to the American, and had taken the advantage of my shoulders to ferry itself across, I could not tell. Be this as it may, I thought of my Uncle Toby and the fly; and so, in lieu of placing it upon the deck, and then putting my thumb-nail vertically upon it, I quietly chucked it amongst some baggage that was close by and recommended it to get ashore by the first opportunity.
When we had seen all that was worth seeing in Quebec and at the Falls of Montmorency, and had been on board the enormous ship Columbus, we returned for a day or two to Montreal, and then proceeded to Saratoga by Lakes Champlain and George.
The steamboat from Quebec to Montreal had above five hundred Irish emigrants on board. They were going “they hardly knew whither,” far away from dear Ireland. It made one’s heart ache to see them all huddled together, without any expectation of ever revisiting their native soil. We feared that the sorrow of leaving home for ever, the miserable accommodations on board the ship which had brought them away, and the tossing of the angry ocean in a long and dreary voyage would have rendered them callous to good behaviour. But it was quite otherwise. They conducted themselves with great propriety. Every American on board seemed to feel for them. And then “they were so full of wretchedness. Need and oppression starved in their eyes. Upon their backs hung ragged misery. The world was not their friend.” Poor dear Ireland, exclaimed an aged female as I was talking to her, I shall never see it any more! and then her tears began to flow. Probably the scenery on the banks of the St. Lawrence recalled to her mind the remembrance of spots once interesting to her:
The lovely daughter — lovelier in her tears,
The fond companion of her father’s years,
Here silent stood — neglectful of her charms.
And left her lover’s for her father’s arms.
With louder plaints the mother spoke her woes,
And blessed the cot where every pleasure rose;
And pressed her thoughtless babes, with many a tear,
And clasped them close, in sorrow doubly dear.
While the fond husband strove to lend relief.
In all the silent manliness of grief.
We went a few miles out of our route to take a look at the once formidable fortress of Ticonderoga. It has long been in ruins, and seems as if it were doomed to moulder quite away.
Ever and anon there falls
Huge heaps of hoary moulder’d walls.
But time has seen, that lifts the low
And level lays the lofty brow,
Has seen this ruin’d pile complete,
Big with the vanity of state,
But transient is the smile of Fate.
The scenery of Lake George is superb, the inn remarkably spacious and well attended, and the conveyances from thence to Saratoga very good. He must be sorely afflicted with spleen and jaundice who, on his arrival at Saratoga, remarks there is nothing here worth coming to see. It is a gay and fashionable place; has four uncommonly fine hotels; its waters for medicinal virtues are surpassed by none in the known world; and it is resorted to throughout the whole of the summer by foreigners and natives of the first consideration. Saratoga pleased me much; and afforded a fair opportunity of forming a pretty correct idea of the gentry of the United States.
There is a pleasing frankness and ease and becoming dignity in the American ladies, and the good humour and absence of all haughtiness and puppyism in the gentlemen must, no doubt, impress the traveller with elevated notions of the company who visit this famous spa.
During my stay here all was joy and affability and mirth. In the mornings the ladies played and sang for us; and the evenings were generally enlivened with the merry dance. Here I bade farewell to the charming family in whose company I had passed so many happy days, and proceeded to Albany.
The stage stopped a little while in the town of Troy. The name alone was quite sufficient to recall to the mind scenes long past and gone. Poor King Priam! Napoleon’s sorrows, sad and piercing as they were, did not come up to those of this ill-fated monarch. The Greeks first set his town on fire and then began to bully:
Incensâ Danai dominantur in urbe.
One of his sons was slain before his face: “ante ora parentum, concidit.” Another was crushed to mummy by boa-constrictors: “immensis orbibus angues.” His city was razed to the ground, “jacet Ilion ingens.” And Pyrrhus ran him through with his sword, “capulo tenus abdidit ensem.” This last may be considered as a fortunate stroke for the poor old king. Had his life been spared at this juncture he could not have lived long. He must have died broken-hearted. He would have seen his son-in-law, once master of a noble stud, now, for want of a horse, obliged to carry off his father up-hill on his own back, “cessi et sublato, montem genitore petivi.” He would have heard of his grandson being thrown neck and heels from a high tower, “mittitur Astyanax illis de turribus.” He would have been informed of his wife tearing out the eyes of King Odrysius with her finger-nails, “digitos in perfida lumina condit.” Soon after this, losing all appearance of woman, she became a bitch,
Perdidit infelix, hominis post omnia formam,
and rent the heavens with her howlings,
Externasque novo latratu terruit auras.
Then, becoming distracted with the remembrance of her misfortunes, “veterum memor illa malorum,” she took off howling into the fields of Thrace:
Tum quoque Sithonios, ululavit moesta per agros.
Juno, Jove’s wife and sister, was heard to declare that poor Hecuba did not deserve so terrible a fate:
Ipsa Jovis conjuxque sororque,
Eventus Hecubam meruisse negaverit illos.
Had poor Priam escaped from Troy, one thing, and only one thing, would have given him a small ray of satisfaction, viz. he would have heard of one of his daughters nobly preferring to leave this world rather than live to become servant-maid to old Grecian ladies:
Non ego Myrmidonum sedes, Dolopumve superbas,
Adspiciam, aut Graiis servitum matribus ibo.
At some future period, should a foreign armed force, or intestine broils (all which Heaven avert), raise Troy to the dignity of a fortified city, Virgil’s prophecy may then be fulfilled:
Atque iterum ad Trojam magnus mittetur Achilles.
After leaving Troy I passed through a fine country to Albany, and then proceeded by steam down the Hudson to New York.
Travellers hesitate whether to give the preference to Philadelphia or to New York. Philadelphia is certainly a noble city and its environs beautiful, but there is a degree of quiet and sedateness in it which, though no doubt very agreeable to the man of calm and domestic habits, is not so attractive to one of speedy movements. The quantity of white marble which is used in the buildings gives to Philadelphia a gay and lively appearance, but the sameness of the streets and their crossing each other at right angles are somewhat tiresome. The waterworks which supply the city are a proud monument of the skill and enterprise of its inhabitants, and the market is well worth the attention of the stranger.
When you go to Philadelphia be sure not to forget to visit the museum. It will afford you a great treat. Some of Mr. Peale’s family are constantly in it, and are ever ready to show the curiosities to strangers and to give them every necessary information. Mr. Peale has now passed his eightieth year, and appears to possess the vivacity and, I may almost add, the activity of youth.
To the indefatigable exertions of this gentleman is the Western world indebted for the possession of this splendid museum. Mr. Peale is, moreover, an excellent artist. Look attentively, I pray you, at the portrait he has taken of himself, by desire of the State of Pennsylvania. On entering the room he appears in the act of holding up a curtain to show you his curiosities. The effect of the light upon his head is infinitely striking. I have never seen anything finer in the way of light and shade. The skeleton of the mammoth is a national treasure. I could form but a faint idea of it by description until I had seen it. It is the most magnificent skeleton in the world. The city ought never to forget the great expense Mr. Peale was put to, and the skill and energy he showed during the many months he spent in searching the swamps where these enormous bones had been concealed from the eyes of the world for centuries.
The extensive squares of this city are ornamented with well-grown and luxuriant trees. Its unremitting attention to literature might cause it to be styled the Athens of the United States. Here learning and science have taken up their abode. The literary and philosophical associations, the enthusiasm of individuals, the activity of the press and the cheapness of the publications ought to raise the name of Philadelphia to an elevated situation in the temple of knowledge.
From the press of this city came Wilson’s famous Ornithology. By observing the birds in their native haunts he has been enabled to purge their history of numberless absurdities which inexperienced theorists had introduced into it. It is a pleasing and a brilliant work. We have no description of birds in any European publication that can come up to this. By perusing Wilson’s Ornithology attentively before I left England I knew where to look for the birds, and immediately recognised them in their native land.
Since his time I fear that the white-headed eagles have been much thinned. I was perpetually looking out for them, but saw very few. One or two came now and then and soared in lofty flight over the Falls of Niagara. The Americans are proud of this bird in effigy, and their hearts rejoice when its banner is unfurled. Could they not then be persuaded to protect the white-headed eagle, and allow it to glide in safety over its own native forests? Were I an American I should think I had committed a kind of sacrilege in killing the white-headed eagle. The ibis was held sacred by the Egyptians; the Hollanders protect the stork; the vulture sits unmolested on the top of the houses in the city of Angustura; and Robin Redbreast, for his charity, is cherished by the English:
No burial these pretty babes
Of any man receives,
Till Robin-red-breast painfully.
Did cover them with leaves. [Footnote]
[Footnote: The fault against grammar is lost in the beauty of the idea.]
Poor Wilson was smote by the hand of death before he had finished his work. Prince Charles Buonaparte, nephew to the late Emperor Napoleon, aided by some of the most scientific gentlemen of Pennsylvania, is continuing this valuable and interesting publication.
New York, with great propriety, may be called the commercial capital of the new world:
Urbs augusta potens, nulli cessura.
Ere long it will be on the coast of North America what Tyre once was on that of Syria. In her port are the ships of all nations, and in her streets is displayed merchandise from all parts of the known world. And then the approach to it is so enchanting! The verdant fields, the woody hills, the farms and country-houses form a beautiful landscape as you sail up to the city of New York.
Broadway is the principal street. It is three miles and a half long. I am at a loss to know where to look for a street in any part of the world which has so many attractions as this. There are no steam-engines to annoy you by filling the atmosphere full of soot and smoke; the houses have a stately appearance; while the eye is relieved from the perpetual sameness, which is common in most streets, by lofty and luxuriant trees.
Nothing can surpass the appearance of the American ladies when they take their morning walk from twelve to three in Broadway. The stranger will at once see that they have rejected the extravagant superfluities which appear in the London and Parisian fashions, and have only retained as much of those costumes as is becoming to the female form. This, joined to their own just notions of dress, is what renders the New York ladies so elegant in their attire. The way they wear the Leghorn hat deserves a remark or two. With us the formal hand of the milliner binds down the brim to one fixed shape, and that none of the handsomest. The wearer is obliged to turn her head full ninety degrees before she can see the person who is standing by her side. But in New York the ladies have the brim of the hat not fettered with wire or tape or ribbon, but quite free and undulating; and by applying the hand to it they can conceal or expose as much of the face as circumstances require. This hiding and exposing of the face, by the by, is certainly a dangerous movement, and often fatal to the passing swain. I am convinced, in my own mind, that many a determined and unsuspecting bachelor has been shot down by this sudden manoeuvre before he was aware that he was within reach of the battery.
The American ladies seem to have an abhorrence (and a very just one, too) of wearing caps. When one considers for a moment that women wear the hair long, which Nature has given them both for an ornament and to keep the head warm, one is apt to wonder by what perversion of good taste they can be induced to enclose it in a cap. A mob-cap, a lace-cap, a low cap, a high cap, a flat cap, a cap with ribbons dangling loose, a cap with ribbons tied under the chin, a peak-cap, an angular cap, a round cap and a pyramid cap! How would Canova’s Venus look in a mob-cap? If there be any ornament to the head in wearing a cap, it must surely be a false ornament. The American ladies are persuaded that the head can be ornamented without a cap. A rosebud or two, a woodbine, or a sprig of eglantine look well in the braided hair; and if there be raven locks, a lily or a snowdrop may be interwoven with effect.
Now that the packets are so safe, and make such quick passages to the United States, it would be as well if some of our head milliners would go on board of them in lieu of getting into the diligence for Paris. They would bring back more taste and less caricature. And if they could persuade a dozen or two of the farmer’s servant-girls to return with them, we should soon have proof-positive that as good butter and cheese may be made with the hair braided up, and a daisy or primrose in it, as butter and cheese made in a cap of barbarous shape, washed, perhaps, in soapsuds last new moon.
New York has very good hotels and genteel boarding-houses. All charges included, you do not pay above two dollars a day. Little enough, when you consider the capital accommodations and the abundance of food.
In this city, as well as in others which I visited, everybody seemed to walk at his ease. I could see no inclination for jostling, no impertinent staring at you, nor attempts to create a row in order to pick your pocket. I would stand for an hour together in Broadway to observe the passing multitude. There is certainly a gentleness in these people both to be admired and imitated. I could see very few dogs, still fewer cats, and but a very small proportion of fat women in the streets of New York. The climate was the only thing that I had really to find fault with; and as the autumn was now approaching I began to think of preparing for warmer regions.
Strangers are apt to get violent colds on account of the sudden change of the atmosphere. The noon would often be as warm as tropical weather and the close of day cold and chilly. This must sometimes act with severity upon the newly-arrived stranger, and it requires more care and circumspection than I am master of to guard against it. I contracted a bad and obstinate cough which did not quite leave me till I had got under the regular heat of the sun near the equator.
I may be asked, was it all good-fellowship and civility during my stay in the United States? Did no forward person cause offence? Was there no exhibition of drunkenness or swearing or rudeness? or display of conduct which disgraces civilised man in other countries? I answer, very few indeed: scarce any worth remembering, and none worth noticing. These are a gentle and a civil people. Should a traveller now and then in the long run witness a few of the scenes alluded to, he ought not, on his return home, to adduce a solitary instance or two as the custom of the country. In roving through the wilds of Guiana I have sometimes seen a tree hollow at heart, shattered and leafless, but I did not on that account condemn its vigorous neighbours, and put down a memorandum that the woods were bad; on the contrary, I made allowances: a thunderstorm, the whirlwind, a blight from heaven might have robbed it of its bloom and caused its present forbidding appearance. And in leaving the forest I carried away the impression that, though some few of the trees were defective, the rest were an ornament to the wilds, full of uses and virtues, and capable of benefiting the world in a superior degree.
A man generally travels into foreign countries for his own ends, and I suspect there is scarcely an instance to be found of a person leaving his own home solely with the intention of benefiting those amongst whom he is about to travel. A commercial speculation, curiosity, a wish for information, a desire to reap benefit from an acquaintance with our distant fellow-creatures are the general inducements for a man to leave his own fireside. This ought never to be forgotten, and then the traveller will journey on under the persuasion that it rather becomes him to court than expect to be courted, as his own interest is the chief object of his travels. With this in view he will always render himself pleasant to the natives; and they are sure to repay his little acts of courtesy with ample interest, and with a fund of information which will be of great service to him.
While in the United States I found our Western brother a very pleasant fellow; but his portrait has been drawn in such different shades by different travellers who have been through his territory, that it requires a personal interview before a correct idea can be formed of his true colours. He is very inquisitive; but it is quite wrong on that account to tax him with being of an impertinent turn. He merely interrogates you for information, and, when you have satisfied him on that score, only ask him in your turn for an account of what is going on in his own country and he will tell you everything about it with great good humour and in excellent language. He has certainly hit upon the way (but I could not make out by what means) of speaking a much purer English language than that which is in general spoken on the parent soil. This astonished me much; but it is really the case. Amongst his many good qualities he has one unenviable and, I may add, a bad propensity: he is immoderately fond of smoking. He may say that he learned it from his nurse, with whom it was once much in vogue. In Dutch William’s time (he was a man of bad taste) the English gentleman could not do without his pipe. During the short space of time that Corporal Trim was at the inn inquiring after poor Lefevre’s health, my Uncle Toby had knocked the ashes out of three pipes. “It was not till my Uncle Toby had knocked the ashes out of his third pipe,” etc. Now these times have luckily gone by, and the custom of smoking amongst genteel Englishmen has nearly died away with them. It is a foul custom; it makes a foul mouth, and a foul place where the smoker stands. However, every nation has its whims. John Bull relishes stinking venison; a Frenchman depopulates whole swamps in quest of frogs; a Dutchman’s pipe is never out of his mouth; a Russian will eat tallow-candles; and the American indulges in the cigar. “De gustibus non est disputandum.”
Our Western brother is in possession of a country replete with everything that can contribute to the happiness and comfort of mankind. His code of laws, purified by experience and common-sense, has fully answered the expectations of the public. By acting up to the true spirit of this code he has reaped immense advantages from it. His advancement as a nation has been rapid beyond all calculation, and, young as he is, it may be remarked without any impropriety that he is now actually reading a salutary lesson to the rest of the civilised world.
It is but some forty years ago that he had the dispute with his nurse about a dish of tea. She wanted to force the boy to drink it according to her own receipt. He said he did not like it, and that it absolutely made him ill. After a good deal of sparring she took up the birch-rod and began to whip him with an uncommon degree of asperity. When the poor lad found that he must either drink the nauseous dish of tea or be flogged to death, he turned upon her in self-defence, showed her to the outside of the nursery-door, and never more allowed her to meddle with his affairs.
Since the Independence the population has increased from three to ten millions. A fine navy has been built, and everything attended to that could ensure prosperity at home and respect abroad.
The former wilds of North America bear ample testimony to the achievements of this enterprising people. Forests have been cleared away, swamps drained, canals dug and flourishing settlements established. From the shores of the Atlantic an immense column of knowledge has rolled into the interior. The Mississippi, the Ohio, the Missouri and their tributary streams have been wonderfully benefited by it. It now seems as if it were advancing towards the stony mountains, and probably will not become stationary till it reaches the Pacific Ocean. This almost immeasurable territory affords a shelter and a home to mankind in general: Jew or Gentile, king’s-man or republican, he meets with a friendly reception in the United States. His opinions, his persecutions, his errors or mistakes, however they may have injured him in other countries, are dead and of no avail on his arrival here. Provided he keeps the peace he is sure to be at rest.
Politicians of other countries imagine that intestine feuds will cause a division in this commonwealth; at present there certainly appears to be no reason for such a conjecture. Heaven forbid that it should happen. The world at large would suffer by it. For ages yet to come may this great commonwealth continue to be the United States of North America.
The sun was now within a week or two of passing into the southern hemisphere, and the mornings and evenings were too cold to be comfortable. I embarked for the Island of Antigua with the intention of calling at the different islands in the Caribbean Sea on my way once more towards the wilds of Guiana.
We were thirty days in making Antigua, and thanked Providence for ordering us so long a passage. A tremendous gale of wind, approaching to a hurricane, had done much damage in the West Indies. Had our passage been of ordinary length we should inevitably have been caught in the gale.
St. John’s is the capital of Antigua. In better times it may have had its gaieties and amusements. At present it appears sad and woebegone. The houses, which are chiefly of wood, seem as if they have not had a coat of paint for many years; the streets are uneven and ill-paved; and as the stranger wanders through them, he might fancy that they would afford a congenial promenade to the man who is about to take his last leave of surrounding worldly misery before he hangs himself. There had been no rain for some time, so that the parched and barren pastures near the town might, with great truth, be called Rosinante’s own. The mules feeding on them put you in mind of Ovid’s description of famine:
Dura cutis, per quam spectari viscera possent.
It is somewhat singular that there is not a single river or brook in the whole Island of Antigua. In this it differs from Tartary in the other world, which, according to old writers, has five rivers — viz. Acheron, Phlegeton, Cocytus, Styx and Lethe.
In this island I found the redstart, described in Wilson’s Ornithology of the United States. I wished to learn whether any of these birds remain the whole year in Antigua and breed there, or whether they all leave it for the north when the sun comes out of the southern hemisphere; but upon inquiry I could get no information whatever.
After passing a dull week here I sailed for Guadaloupe, whose bold and cloud-capped mountains have a grand appearance as you approach the island. Basseterre, the capital, is a neat town, with a handsome public walk in the middle of it, well shaded by a row of fine tamarind trees on each side. Behind the town La Souffrière raises its high romantic summit, and on a clear day you may see the volcanic smoke which issues from it.
Nearly midway betwixt Guadaloupe and Dominica you escry the Saintes. Though high and bold and rocky, they have still a diminutive appearance when compared with their two gigantic neighbours. You just see Marigalante to windward of them, some leagues off, about a yard high in the horizon.
Dominica is majestic in high and rugged mountains. As you sail along it you cannot help admiring its beautiful coffee-plantations, in places so abrupt and steep that you would pronounce them almost inaccessible. Roseau, the capital, is but a small town, and has nothing attractive except the well-known hospitality of the present harbour-master, who is particularly attentive to strangers and furnishes them with a world of information concerning the West Indies. Roseau has seen better days, and you can trace good taste and judgment in the way in which the town has originally been laid out.
Some years ago it was visited by a succession of misfortunes which smote it so severely that it has never recovered its former appearance. A strong French fleet bombarded it; while a raging fire destroyed its finest buildings. Some time after an overwhelming flood rolled down the gullies and fissures of the adjacent mountains and carried all before it. Men, women and children, houses and property, were all swept away by this mighty torrent. The terrible scene was said to beggar all description, and the loss was immense.
Dominica is famous for a large species of frog which the inhabitants keep in readiness to slaughter for the table. In the woods of this island the large rhinoceros-beetle is very common: it measures above six inches in length. In the same woods is found the beautiful humming-bird, the breast and throat of which are of a brilliant changing purple. I have searched for this bird in Brazil and through the whole of the wilds from the Rio Branco, which is a branch of the Amazons, to the River Paumaron, but never could find it. I was told by a man in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly that this humming-bird is found in Mexico; but upon questioning him more about it his information seemed to have been acquired by hearsay; and so I concluded that it does not appear in Mexico. I suspect that it is never found out of the Antilles.
After leaving Dominica you soon reach the grand and magnificent Island of Martinico. St. Pierre, its capital, is a fine town, and possesses every comfort. The inhabitants seem to pay considerable attention to the cultivation of the tropical fruits. A stream of water runs down the streets with great rapidity, producing a pleasing effect as you pass along.
Here I had an opportunity of examining a cuckoo which had just been shot. It was exactly the same as the metallic cuckoo in Wilson’s Ornithology. They told me it is a migratory bird in Martinico. It probably repairs to this island after its departure from the United States.
At a little distance from Martinico the celebrated Diamond Rock rises in insulated majesty out of the sea. It was fortified during the last war with France, and bravely defended by an English captain.
In a few hours from Martinico you are at St. Lucie, whose rough and towering mountains fill you with sublime ideas, as you approach its rocky shore. The town Castries is quite embayed. It was literally blown to pieces by the fatal hurricane in which the unfortunate governor and his lady lost their lives. Its present forlorn and gloomy appearance, and the grass which is grown up in the streets, too plainly show that its hour of joy is passed away and that it is in mourning, as it were, with the rest of the British West Indies.
From St. Lucie I proceeded to Barbadoes in quest of a conveyance to the Island of Trinidad.
Near Bridgetown, the capital of Barbadoes, I saw the metallic cuckoo already alluded to.
Barbadoes is no longer the merry island it was when I visited it some years ago:
Infelix habitum, temporis hujus habet.
There is an old song, to the tune of “La Belle Catharine,” which must evidently have been composed in brighter times:
Come let us dance and sing,
While Barbadoes bells do ring;
Quashi scrapes the fiddle-string,
And Venus plays the lute.
Quashi’s fiddle was silent, and mute was the lute of Venus during my stay in Barbadoes. The difference betwixt the French and British islands was very striking. The first appeared happy and content; the second were filled with murmurs and complaints. The late proceedings in England concerning slavery and the insurrection in Demerara had evidently caused the gloom. The abolition of slavery is a question full of benevolence and fine feelings, difficulties and danger:
Tantum ne noceas, dum vis prodesse videto.
It requires consummate prudence and a vast fund of true information in order to draw just conclusions on this important subject. Phaeton, by awkward driving, set the world on fire: “Sylvæ cum montibus ardent.” Dædalus gave his son a pair of wings without considering the consequence; the boy flew out of all bounds, lost his wings, and tumbled into the sea:
Icarus, Icariis nomina fecit aquis.
When the old man saw what had happened, he damned his own handicraft in wing-making: “devovitque suas artes.” Prudence is a cardinal virtue:
Omnia consulta mente gerenda tegens.
Foresight is half the battle. “Hombre apercebido, medio combatido,” says Don Quixote, or Sancho, I do not remember which. Had Queen Bess weighed well in her own mind the probable consequences of this lamentable traffic, it is likely she would not have been owner of two vessels in Sir John Hawkins’s squadron, which committed the first robbery in negro flesh on the coast of Africa. As philanthropy is the very life and soul of this momentous question on slavery, which is certainly fraught with great difficulties and danger, perhaps it would be as well at present for the nation to turn its thoughts to poor ill-fated Ireland, where oppression, poverty and rags make a heart-rending appeal to the feelings of the benevolent.
But to proceed. There was another thing which added to the dullness of Barbadoes and which seemed to have considerable effect in keeping away strangers from the island. The Legislature had passed a most extraordinary Bill, by virtue of which every person who arrives at Barbadoes is obliged to pay two dollars, and two dollars more on his departure from it. It is called the Alien Bill; and every Barbadian who leaves or returns to the island, and every Englishman too, pays the tax!
Finding no vessel here for Trinidad, I embarked in a schooner for Demerara, landed there after being nearly stranded on a sandbank, and proceeded without loss of time to the forests in the interior. It was the dry season, which renders a residence in the woods very delightful.
There are three species of jacamar to be found on the different sandhills and dry savannas of Demerara; but there is another much larger and far more beautiful to be seen when you arrive in that part of the country where there are rocks. The jacamar has no affinity to the woodpecker or kingfisher (notwithstanding what travellers affirm) either in its haunts or anatomy. The jacamar lives entirely on insects, but never goes in search of them. It sits patiently for hours together on the branch of a tree, and when the incautious insect approaches it flies at it with the rapidity of an arrow, seizes it, and generally returns to eat it on the branch which it had just quitted. It has not the least attempt at song, is very solitary, and so tame that you may get within three or four yards of it before it takes flight. The males of all the different species which I have examined have white feathers on the throat. I suspect that all the male jacamars hitherto discovered have this distinctive mark. I could learn nothing of its incubation. The Indians informed me that one species of jacamar lays its eggs in the wood-ants’ nests, which are so frequent in the trees of Guiana, and appear like huge black balls. I wish there had been proof positive of this; but the breeding-time was over, and in the ants’ nests which I examined I could find no marks of birds having ever been in them. Early in January the jacamar is in fine plumage for the cabinet of the naturalist. The largest species measures ten inches and a half from the point of the beak to the end of the tail. Its name amongst the Indians is una-waya-adoucati, that is, grandfather of the jacamar. It is certainly a splendid bird, and in the brilliancy and changeableness of its metallic colours it yields to none of the Asiatic and African feathered tribe. The colours of the female are nearly as bright as those of the male, but she wants the white feathers on the throat. The large jacamar is pretty common about two hundred miles up the River Demerara.
Here I had a fine opportunity once more of examining the three-toed sloth. He was in the house with me for a day or two. Had I taken a description of him as he lay sprawling on the floor I should have misled the world and injured natural history. On the ground he appeared really a bungled composition, and faulty at all points; awkwardness and misery were depicted on his countenance; and when I made him advance he sighed as though in pain. Perhaps it was that by seeing him thus out of his element, as it were, that the Count de Buffon, in his history of the sloth, asks the question: “Why should not some animals be created for misery, since, in the human species, the greatest number of individuals are devoted to pain from the moment of their existence?” Were the question put to me I would answer, I cannot conceive that any of them are created for misery. That thousands live in misery there can be no doubt; but then misery has overtaken them in their path through life, and wherever man has come up with them I should suppose they have seldom escaped from experiencing a certain proportion of misery.
After fully satisfying myself that it only leads the world into error to describe the sloth while he is on the ground or in any place except in a tree, I carried the one I had in my possession to his native haunts. As soon as he came in contact with the branch of a tree all went right with him. I could see as he climbed up into his own country that he was on the right road to happiness; and felt persuaded more than ever that the world has hitherto erred in its conjectures concerning the sloth, on account of naturalists not having given a description of him when he was in the only position in which he ought to have been described, namely, clinging to the branch of a tree.
As the appearance of this part of the country bears great resemblance to Cayenne, and is so near to it, I was in hopes to have found the grande gobe-mouche of Buffon and the septi-coloured tangara, both of which are common in Cayenne; but after many diligent searches I did not succeed, nor could I learn from the Indians that they had ever seen those two species of birds in these parts.
Here I procured the gross-beak with a rich scarlet body and black head and throat. Buffon mentions it as coming from America. I had been in quest of it for years, but could never see it, and concluded that it was not to be found in Demerara. This bird is of a greenish brown before it acquires its rich plumage.
Amongst the bare roots of the trees, alongside of this part of the river, a red crab sometimes makes its appearance as you are passing up and down. It is preyed upon by a large species of owl which I was fortunate enough to procure. Its head, back, wings and tail are of so dark a brown as almost to appear black. The breast is of a somewhat lighter brown. The belly and thighs are of a dirty yellow-white. The feathers round the eyes are of the same dark brown as the rest of the body; and then comes a circle of white which has much the appearance of the rim of a large pair of spectacles. I strongly suspect that the dirty yellow-white of the belly and thighs has originally been pure white, and that it has come to its present colour by means of the bird darting down upon its prey in the mud. But this is mere conjecture.
Here, too, close to the river, I frequently saw the bird called sun-bird by the English colonists and tirana by the Spaniards in the Oroonoque. It is very elegant, and in its outward appearance approaches near to the heron tribe; still, it does not live upon fish. Flies and insects are its food, and it takes them just as the heron takes fish, by approaching near and then striking with its beak at its prey so quick that it has no chance to escape. The beautiful mixture of grey, yellow, green, black, white and chestnut in the plumage of this bird baffles any attempt to give a description of the distribution of them which would be satisfactory to the reader.
There is something remarkable in the great tinamou which I suspect has hitherto escaped notice. It invariably roosts in trees, but the feet are so very small in proportion to the body of this bulky bird that they can be of no use to it in grasping the branch; and, moreover, the hind-toe is so short that it does not touch the ground when the bird is walking. The back part of the leg, just below the knee, is quite flat and somewhat concave. On it are strong pointed scales, which are very rough, and catch your finger as you move it along from the knee to the toe. Now, by means of these scales and the particular flatness of that part of the leg, the bird is enabled to sleep in safety upon the branch of a tree.
At the close of day the great tinamou gives a loud, monotonous, plaintive whistle, and then immediately springs into the tree. By the light of the full-moon the vigilant and cautious naturalist may see him sitting in the position already described.
The small tinamou has nothing that can be called a tail. It never lays more than one egg, which is of a chocolate colour. It makes no nest, but merely scratches a little hollow in the sand, generally at the foot of a tree.
Here we have an instance of a bird the size of a partridge, and of the same tribe, laying only one egg, while the rest of the family, from the peahen to the quail, are known to lay a considerable number. The foot of this bird is very small in proportion, but the back part of the leg bears no resemblance to that of the larger tinamou; hence one might conclude that it sleeps upon the ground.
Independent of the hollow trees, the vampires have another hiding-place. They clear out the inside of the large ants’ nests and then take possession of the shell. I had gone about half a day down the river to a part of the forest where the wallaba-trees were in great plenty. The seeds had ripened, and I was in hopes to have got the large scarlet ara, which feeds on them. But unfortunately the time had passed away, and the seeds had fallen.
While ranging here in the forest we stopped under an ants’ nest, and, by the dirt below, conjectured that it had got new tenants. Thinking it no harm to dislodge them, “vi et armis,” an Indian boy ascended the tree, but before he reached the nest out flew above a dozen vampires.
I have formerly remarked that I wished to have it in my power to say that I had been sucked by the vampire. I gave them many an opportunity, but they always fought shy; and though they now sucked a young man of the Indian breed very severely, as he was sleeping in his hammock in the shed next to mine, they would have nothing to do with me. His great toe seemed to have all the attractions. I examined it minutely as he was bathing it in the river at daybreak. The midnight surgeon had made a hole in it almost of a triangular shape, and the blood was then running from it apace. His hammock was so defiled and stained with clotted blood that he was obliged to beg an old black woman to wash it. As she was taking it down to the river-side she spread it out before me, and shook her head. I remarked that I supposed her own toe was too old and tough to invite the vampire-doctor to get his supper out of it, and she answered, with a grin, that doctors generally preferred young people.
Nobody has yet been able to inform me how it is that the vampire manages to draw such a large quantity of blood, generally from the toe, and the patient all the time remains in a profound sleep. I have never heard of an instance of a man waking under the operation. On the contrary, he continues in a sound sleep, and at the time of rising his eyes first inform him that there has been a thirsty thief on his toe.
The teeth of the vampire are very sharp and not unlike those of a rat. If it be that he inflicts the wound with his teeth (and he seems to have no other instruments), one would suppose that the acuteness of the pain would cause the person who is sucked to awake. We are in darkness in this matter, and I know of no means by which one might be enabled to throw light upon it. It is to be hoped that some future wanderer through the wilds of Guiana will be more fortunate than I have been and catch this nocturnal depredator in the fact. I have once before mentioned that I killed a vampire which measured thirty-two inches from wing to wing extended, but others which I have since examined have generally been from twenty to twenty-six inches in dimension.
The large humming-bird, called by the Indians kara-bimiti, invariably builds its nest in the slender branches of the trees which hang over the rivers and creeks. In appearance it is like brown tanned leather, and without any particle of lining. The rim of the nest is doubled inwards, and I always conjectured that it had taken this shape on account of the body of the bird pressing against it while she was laying her eggs. But this was quite a wrong conjecture. Instinct has taught the bird to give it this shape in order that the eggs may be prevented from rolling out.
The trees on the river’s bank are particularly exposed to violent gusts of wind, and while I have been sitting in the canoe and looking on, I have seen the slender branch of the tree which held the humming-bird’s nest so violently shaken that the bottom of the inside of the nest has appeared, and had there been nothing at the rim to stop the eggs they must inevitably have been jerked out into the water. I suspect the humming-bird never lays more than two eggs. I never found more than two in any of the many nests which have come in my way. The eggs were always white without any spots on them.
Probably travellers have erred in asserting that the monkeys of South America throw sticks and fruit at their pursuers. I have had fine opportunities of narrowly watching the different species of monkeys which are found in the wilds betwixt the Amazons and the Oroonoque. I entirely acquit them of acting on the offensive. When the monkeys are in the high trees over your head the dead branches will now and then fall down upon you, having been broken off as the monkeys pass along them; but they are never hurled from their hands.
Monkeys, commonly so called, both in the old and new continent, may be classed into three grand divisions: namely, the ape, which has no tail whatever; the baboon, which has only a short tail; and the monkey, which has a long tail. There are no apes and no baboons as yet discovered in the new world. Its monkeys may be very well and very briefly ranged under two heads: namely, those with hairy and bushy tails; and those whose tails are bare of hair underneath about six inches from the extremity. Those with hairy and bushy tails climb just like the squirrel, and make no use of the tail to help them from branch to branch. Those which have the tail bare underneath towards the end find it of infinite advantage to them in their ascent and descent. They apply it to the branch of the tree, as though it were a supple finger, and frequently swing by it from the branch like the pendulum of a clock. It answers all the purposes of a fifth hand to the monkey, as naturalists have already observed.
The large red monkey of Demerara is not a baboon, though it goes by that name, having a long pensile tail. [Footnote: I believe pensile is a new-coined word. I have seen it, but do not remember where.] Nothing can sound more dreadful than its nocturnal howlings. While lying in your hammock in these gloomy and immeasurable wilds, you hear him howling at intervals from eleven o’clock at night till daybreak. You would suppose that half the wild beasts of the forest were collecting for the work of carnage. Now it is the tremendous roar of the jaguar as he springs on his prey: now it changes to his terrible and deep-toned growlings as he is pressed on all sides by superior force: and now you hear his last dying moan beneath a mortal wound.
Some naturalists have supposed that these awful sounds which you would fancy are those of enraged and dying wild beasts proceed from a number of the red monkeys howling in concert. One of them alone is capable of producing all these sounds; and the anatomists on an inspection of his trachea will be fully satisfied that this is the case. When you look at him, as he is sitting on the branch of a tree, you will see a lump in his throat the size of a large hen’s egg. In dark and cloudy weather, and just before a squall of rain, this monkey will often howl in the daytime; and if you advance cautiously, and get under the high and tufted tree where he is sitting, you may have a capital opportunity of witnessing his wonderful powers of producing these dreadful and discordant sounds.
His flesh is good food; but when skinned his appearance is so like that of a young one of our own species that a delicate stomach might possibly revolt at the idea of putting a knife and fork into it. However, I can affirm from experience that, after a long and dreary march through these remote forests, the flesh of this monkey is not to be sneezed at when boiled in cayenne-pepper or roasted on a stick over a good fire. A young one tastes not unlike kid, and the old ones have somewhat the flavour of he-goat.
I mentioned, in a former adventure, that I had hit upon an entirely new plan of making the skins of quadrupeds retain their exact form and feature. Intense application to the subject has since that period enabled me to shorten the process and hit the character of an animal to a very great nicety, even to the preservation of the pouting lip, dimples, warts and wrinkles on the face. I got a fine specimen of the howling monkey, and took some pains with it in order to show the immense difference that exists betwixt the features of this monkey and those of man.
I also procured an animal which has caused not a little speculation and astonishment. In my opinion, his thick coat of hair and great length of tail put his species out of all question, but then his face and head cause the inspector to pause for a moment before he ventures to pronounce his opinion of the classification. He was a large animal, and as I was pressed for daylight, and moreover, felt no inclination to have the whole weight of his body upon my back, I contented myself with his head and shoulders, which I cut off, and have brought them with me to Europe. [Footnote: My young friend Mr. J. H. Foljambe, eldest son of Thomas Foljambe, Esq., of Wakefield, has made a drawing of the head and shoulders of this animal, and it is certainly a most correct and striking likeness of the original.] I have since found that I acted quite right in doing so, having had enough to answer for the head alone, without saying anything of his hands and feet, and of his tail, which is an appendage, Lord Kames asserts, belongs to us.
The features of this animal are quite of the Grecian cast, and he has a placidity of countenance which shows that things went well with him when in life. Some gentlemen of great skill and talent, on inspecting his head, were convinced that the whole series of its features has been changed. Others again have hesitated, and betrayed doubts, not being able to make up their minds whether it be possible that the brute features of the monkey can be changed into the noble countenance of man: “Scinditur vulgus.” One might argue at considerable length on this novel subject; and perhaps, after all, produce little more than prolix pedantry: “Vox et praeterea nihil.”
Let us suppose for an instant that it is a new species. Well; “Una golondrina no hace verano”: One swallow does not make summer, as Sancho Panza says. Still, for all that, it would be well worth while going out to search for it; and these times of Pasco–Peruvian enterprise are favourable to the undertaking. Perhaps, gentle reader, you would wish me to go in quest of another. I would beg leave respectfully to answer that the way is dubious, long and dreary; and though, unfortunately, I cannot allege the excuse of “me pia conjux detinet,” still I would fain crave a little repose. I have already been a long while errant:
Longa mihi exilia, et vastum maris æquor aravi,
Ne mandate mihi, nam ego sum defessus agendo.
Should anybody be induced to go, great and innumerable are the discoveries yet to be made in those remote wilds; and should he succeed in bringing home even a head alone, with features as perfect as those of that which I have brought, far from being envious of him, I should consider him a modern Alcides, fully entitled to register a thirteenth labour. Now if, on the other hand, we argue that this head in question has had all its original features destroyed, and a set of new ones given to it, by what means has this hitherto unheard-of change been effected? Nobody in any of our museums has as yet been able to restore the natural features to stuffed animals; and he who has any doubts of this, let him take a living cat or dog and compare them with a stuffed cat or dog in any of the first-rate museums. A momentary glance of the eye would soon settle his doubts on this head.
If I have succeeded in effacing the features of a brute, and putting those of a man in their place, we might be entitled to say that the sun of Proteus has risen to our museums:
Unius hic faciem, facies transformat in omnes;
Nunc homo, nunc tigris; nunc equa, nunc mulier.
If I have effected this, we can now give to one side of the skin of a man’s face the appearance of eighty years and to the other side that of blooming seventeen. We could make the forehead and eyes serene in youthful beauty and shape the mouth and jaws to the features of a malicious old ape. Here is a new field opened to the adventurous and experimental naturalist: I have trodden it up and down till I am almost weary. To get at it myself I have groped through an alley which may be styled in the words of Ovid:
Arduus, obliquus, caligine densus opaca.
I pray thee, gentle reader, let me out awhile. Time passes on apace; and I want to take thee to have a peep at the spots where mines are supposed to exist in Guiana. As the story of this singular head has probably not been made out to thy satisfaction, perhaps (I may say it nearly in Corporal Trim’s words), on some long and dismal winter’s evening, but not now, I may tell thee more about it; together with that of another head which is equally striking.
It is commonly reported, and I think there is no reason to doubt the fact, that when Demerara and Essequibo were under the Dutch flag there were mines of gold and silver opened near to the River Essequibo. The miners were not successful in their undertaking, and it is generally conjectured that their failure proceeded from inexperience.
Now, when you ascend the Essequibo, some hundred miles above the place where these mines are said to be found, you get into a high, rocky and mountainous country. Here many of the mountains have a very barren aspect, producing only a few stinted shrubs, and here and there a tuft of coarse grass. I could not learn that they have ever been explored, and at this day their mineralogy is totally unknown to us. The Indians are so thinly scattered in this part of the country that there would be no impropriety in calling it uninhabited:
Apparent rari errantes in gurgite vasto.
It remains to be yet learnt whether this portion of Guiana be worth looking after with respect to its supposed mines. The mining speculations at present are flowing down another channel. The rage in England for working the mines of other states has now risen to such a pitch, that it would require a considerable degree of caution in a mere wanderer of the woods in stepping forward to say anything that might tend to raise or depress the spirits of the speculators.
A question or two, however, might be asked. When the revolted colonies shall have repaired in some measure the ravages of war, and settled their own political economy upon a firm foundation, will they quietly submit to see foreigners carrying away those treasures which are absolutely part of their own soil, and which necessity (necessity has no law) forced them to barter away in their hour of need? Now, if it should so happen that the masters of the country begin to repent of their bargain and become envious of the riches which foreigners carry off, many a teasing law might be made and many a vexatious enaction might be put in force that would in all probability bring the speculators into trouble and disappointment.
Besides this consideration there is another circumstance which ought not to be overlooked. I allude to the change of masters nearly throughout the whole of America. It is a curious subject for the European philosopher to moralise upon and for the politician to examine. The more they consider it, the more they will be astonished. If we may judge by what has already taken place, we are entitled to predict that in a very few years more no European banner will be seen to float in any part of the new world. Let us take a cursory view of it.
England some years ago possessed a large portion of the present United States. France had Louisiana; Spain held the Floridas, Mexico, Darien, Terra Firma, Buenos Ayres, Paraguay, Chili, Peru and California; and Portugal ruled the whole of Brazil. All these immense regions are now independent states. England, to be sure, still has Canada, Nova Scotia and a few creeks on the coast of Labrador; also a small settlement in Honduras, and the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo; and these are all. France has not a foot of ground, except the forests of Cayenne. Portugal has lost every province; Spain is blockaded in nearly her last citadel; and the Dutch flag is only seen in Surinam. Nothing more now remains to Europe of this immense continent where but a very few years ago she reigned triumphant.
With regard to the West India Islands, they may be considered as the mere outposts of this mammoth domain. St. Domingo has already shaken off her old masters and become a star of observation to the rest of the sable brethren. The anti-slavery associations of England, full of benevolence and activity, have opened a tremendous battery upon the last remaining forts which the lords of the old continent still hold in the new world; and in all probability will not cease firing till they shall have caused the last flag to be struck of Europe’s late mighty empire in the transatlantic regions. It cannot well be doubted but that the sable hordes in the West Indies will like to follow good example whenever they shall have it in their power to do so.
Now with St. Domingo as an example before them, how long will it be before they try to raise themselves into independent states? And if they should succeed in crushing us in these our last remaining tenements, I would bet ten to one that none of the new Governments will put on mourning for our departure out of the new world. We must well remember that our own Government was taxed with injustice and oppression by the United States during their great struggle; and the British press for years past has, and is still, teeming with every kind of abuse and unbecoming satire against Spain and Portugal for their conduct towards the now revolted colonies.
France also comes in for her share of obloquy. Now this being the case, will not America at large wish most devoutly for the day to come when Europe shall have no more dominion over her? Will she not say to us: Our new forms of government are very different from your old ones. We will trade with you, but we shall always be very suspicious of you as long as you retain possession of the West Indies, which are, as we may say, close to our door-steads. You must be very cautious how you interfere with our politics; for, if we find you meddling with them, and by that means cause us to come to loggerheads, we shall be obliged to send you back to your own homes three or four thousand miles across the Atlantic; and then with that great ditch betwixt us we may hope we shall be good friends. He who casts his eye on the East Indies will there see quite a different state of things. The conquered districts have merely changed one European master for another; and I believe there is no instance of any portion of the East Indies throwing off the yoke of the Europeans and establishing a Government of their own.
Ye who are versed in politics, and study the rise and fall of empires, and know what is good for civilised man and what is bad for him, or, in other words, what will make him happy and what will make him miserable — tell us how comes it that Europe has lost almost her last acre in the boundless expanse of territory which she so lately possessed in the West, and still contrives to hold her vast property in the extensive regions of the East?
But whither am I going? I find myself on a new and dangerous path. Pardon, gentle reader, this sudden deviation. Methinks I hear thee saying to me:
Tramite quo tendis, majoraque viribus audes.
I grant that I have erred, but I will do so no more. In general I avoid politics; they are too heavy for me, and I am aware that they have caused the fall of many a strong and able man; they require the shoulders of Atlas to support their weight.
When I was in the rocky mountains of Macoushia, in the month of June 1812, I saw four young cock-of-the-rocks in an Indian’s hut; they had been taken out of the nest that week. They were of a uniform dirty brown colour, and by the position of the young feathers upon the head you might see that there would be a crest there when the bird arrived at maturity. By seeing young ones in the month of June I immediately concluded that the old cock-of-the-rock would be in fine plumage from the end of November to the beginning of May; and that the naturalist who was in quest of specimens for his museum ought to arrange his plans in such a manner as to be able to get into Macoushia during these months. However, I find now that no exact period can be fixed; for in December 1824 an Indian in the River Demerara gave me a young cock-of-the-rock not a month old, and it had just been brought from the Macoushi country. By having a young specimen at this time of the year it puts it out of one’s power to say at what precise time the old birds are in full plumage. I took it on board a ship with me for England, but it was so very susceptible of cold that it shivered and died three days after we had passed Antigua.
If ever there should be a great demand for large supplies of gum-elastic, commonly called india-rubber, it may be procured in abundance far away in the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo.
Some years ago, when I was in the Macoushi country, there was a capital trick played upon me about india-rubber. It is, almost too good to be left out of these wanderings, and it shows that the wild and uneducated Indian is not without abilities. Weary and sick and feeble through loss of blood, I arrived at some Indian huts which were about two hours distant from the place where the gum-elastic trees grew. After a day and a night’s rest I went to them, and with my own hands made a fine ball of pure india-rubber; it hardened immediately as it became exposed to the air, and its elasticity was almost incredible.
While procuring it, exposure to the rain, which fell in torrents, brought on a return of inflammation in the stomach, and I was obliged to have recourse again to the lancet, and to use it with an unsparing hand. I wanted another ball, but was not in a state the next morning to proceed to the trees. A fine interesting young Indian, observing my eagerness to have it, tendered his services, and asked two handfuls of fish-hooks for his trouble.
Off he went, and to my great surprise returned in a very short time. Bearing in mind the trouble and time it had cost me to make a ball, I could account for this Indian’s expedition in no other way except that, being an inhabitant of the forest, he knew how to go about his work in a much shorter way than I did. His ball, to be sure, had very little elasticity in it. I tried it repeatedly, but it never rebounded a yard high. The young Indian watched me with great gravity, and when I made him understand that I expected the ball would dance better, he called another Indian who knew a little English to assure me that I might be quite easy on that score. The young rogue, in order to render me a complete dupe, brought the new moon to his aid. He gave me to understand that the ball was like the little moon which he pointed to, and by the time it grew big and old the ball would bounce beautifully. This satisfied me, and I gave him the fish-hooks, which he received without the least change of countenance.
I bounced the ball repeatedly for two months after, but I found that it still remained in its infancy. At last I suspected that the savage (to use a vulgar phrase) had “come Yorkshire” over me; and so I determined to find out how he had managed to take me in. I cut the ball in two, and then saw what a taught trick he had played me. It seems he had chewed some leaves into a lump the size of a walnut, and then dipped them in the liquid gum-elastic. It immediately received a coat about as thick as a sixpence. He then rolled some more leaves round it and gave it another coat. He seems to have continued this process till he made the ball considerably larger than the one I had procured; and in order to put his roguery out of all chance of detection he made the last and outer coat thicker than a dollar. This Indian would, no doubt, have thriven well in some of our great towns.
Finding that the rainy season was coming on, I left the wilds of Demerara and Essequibo with regret towards the close of December 1824, and reached once more the shores of England after a long and unpleasant passage.
Ere we part, kind reader, I could wish to draw a little of thy attention to the instructions which are to be found at the end of this book. Twenty years have now rolled away since I first began to examine the specimens of zoology in our museums. As the system of preparation is founded in error, nothing but deformity, distortion and disproportion will be the result of the best intentions and utmost exertions of the workman. Canova’s education, taste and genius enabled him to present to the world statues so correct and beautiful that they are worthy of universal admiration. Had a common stonecutter tried his hand upon the block out of which these statues were sculptured, what a lamentable want of symmetry and fine countenance there would have been. Now when we reflect that the preserved specimens in our museums and private collections are always done upon a wrong principle, and generally by low and illiterate people whose daily bread depends upon the shortness of time in which they can get through their work, and whose opposition to the true way of preparing specimens can only be surpassed by their obstinacy in adhering to the old method, can we any longer wonder at their want of success or hope to see a single specimen produced that will be worth looking at? With this I conclude, hoping that thou hast received some information, and occasionally had a smile upon thy countenance, while perusing these Wanderings; and begging at the same time to add that:
Well I know thy penetration
Many a stain and blot will see,
In the languid long narration,
Of my sylvan errantry.
For the pen too oft was weary,
In the wandering writer’s hand,
As he roved through deep and dreary
Forests, in a distant land.
Show thy mercy, gentle reader,
Let him not entreat in vain;
It will be his strength’s best feeder,
Should he ever go again.
And who knows, how soon complaining
Of a cold and wifeless home,
He may leave it, and again in
Equatorial regions roam.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01